September 2012
E-mail this article

To bag or not to bag

By David Feela

The brown paper wrapper I carried out of the bookstore wasn’t for the sake of discretion. Truth be told, the bookstore refuses to handle plastic anymore. Ideally, the clerk told me, it was on the verge of going entirely bagless, so I was lucky to be handed a brown paper sack. You see, it was raining, thankfully raining, and as I scampered down the sidewalk shielding my new purchase, I secretly imagined a few genuine watermarks marring the surface of a page or two, indelible reminders that the spine of the summer drought had finally been broken.

When (and if) the electronic book revolution gets much more flexible and affordable, perhaps this bookstore will be going bookless as well. Despite our latest national fixation with banning disposable plastic bags, nobody knows exactly how the future will be packaged. From an ebook merchandiser’s point of view, the traditional book is the archetype of excess packaging, the ideas on the page being the only product a consumer should have to purchase. As a word monger, I tend to agree, but as with all obsessions, in moderation.

I’ve been thinking lately about plastic bags, wondering if the earth would be better off without them. At the time of their appearance in the consumer world, plastic bags were purported to be less expensive, lighter, more durable, and a blessing when it came to saving trees. Now, as is the case with many innovations, the blessing has been transformed into a curse, another case of altruistic downsizing without giving anyone the sack.

Few reporters at the center of the disposable- bag debate are talking about the sheer volume of packaging being hauled away inside those plastic hammocks that cradle the products we buy, not to mention the shipping cartons and reams of plastic wrap that arrive by the semi-load at every outlet before the merchandise makes it to the shopping aisles. Yes, there’s plenty of waste to go around, but the burden of it has managed to fall, once again, squarely on the shoulders of the shopper.

True, as a community we could be more than semi-conscious about the problem, but then again, is anyone keeping track of how many customers reuse the bags they collect in some form or another, instead of hanging them like prayer flags from the limbs of the trees surrounding their homes?

The thought that we are involved in serious discussions about actually banning the culprit is proof that as we have lost sight of an important goal: the proper and appropriate use for a plastic bag. It does, you know, exist. We have tried to ban guns, drugs, and certain sexual practices, and look where that has gotten us.

Here’s a less-than-comprehensive list of things to do with plastic shopping bags once you carry them from store where you made your purchases. I say “less-thancomprehensive” because I suspect our collective imagination has not yet been fully engaged when it comes to the paradigms we can visualize for gathering our merchandise.

•Place a bag over the head of the next person who mentions creating an ordinance or law banning disposable bags and count to 10 before removing it.

•Make a monthly donation of the bags you have collected to a local thrift store.

•Make a monthly donation of the bags you have collected to any store where you use them, asking that you see recycled bags as a choice in the check-out line, regardless of whose moniker has been printed on its surface.

•Use them as liners for your bird cage.

•Use them in the parks to pick up dog poop instead of the disposable plastic bags distributed for the same purpose.

•Write to the manufacturer of your choice and suggest it uses recycled bags as part of its product packaging.

•Make parkas for your pets.

•Perforate the bottoms and swing them over your head as salad or pasta strainers.

Sure, the most convenient solution (and I guess that’s part of the problem) is to add another fee at the bottom of each receipt, right before or after the sales tax, for those who insist on using new bags. If the receipt gets too long, charge a small fee for the customer’s excessive use of sales slips. And while we’re at it, since it has already been proposed because of a class-action lawsuit against credit-card companies by store owners, let’s have these companies shift the processing fee for paying with a credit card to the customer’s sales slip too. It is, after all, just another form of plastic we wouldn’t want the public to abuse now, would we?

David Feela writes from rural Montezuma County, Colo.


E-mail this article